What Adoptees Lose in Intercountry Adoption

ICAV Nov

I normally tiptoe around adoption and never say the A word because people just don’t respond well to “adoptee anger“. But during the month of November, I feel it is appropriate to air my feelings on what I have anger about, in intercountry adoption.

I hate that our original identities are ignored and get obliterated as if they don’t matter! I’ve never seen my identity papers because they got “lost” in transit and no-one in government at my adoptive country end, nor my adoptive family, thought to go to the ends of the earth to locate them. Perhaps they thought it wouldn’t matter because I was given a “new” life and family – and that’s all I should ever need?!

I hate that we lose our birth culture, language, religion, heritage, customs, kin, community and country. I hate that these important facets of our identity are ignored and denied. As if they don’t matter because what I gained materially from my adoptive country is assumed to make up for all the losses?!

I hate that I had to endure racism and isolation in my community whilst growing up as a child. The shame of looking non-white, the inner hatred I developed as a result because I didn’t see myself mirrored anywhere. The phrase from my adoptive family, “We love you as one of us” showed how little they understood the impacts of intercountry adoption. They couldn’t recognise my journey was any different to theirs nor did they understand the profound impact this would have on me.

I hate that people assume all adoptive homes are awesome and when we get placed in not-so-positive adoptive homes, no-one checks on us, no-one stands up for us, often our story is not believed and/or invalidated, and no-one gives us a safe place to be nurtured, respected, or cared for. As a child I felt so vulnerable and alone. It was a terrible overwhelming feeling that left me in fight or flight responses for years, with scars to wear for the rest of my life.

I hate that we live in an age where a Government apology seems to be the latest fashion accessory but yet for those adopted via illegal or questionable means, we intercountry adoptees will never get closure. A true apology would mean firstly acknowledging the wrong, then a lifelong commitment to making amends including providing financial renumeration to reflect the pain we carry forever, along with the supports required to help us restore our mental well being; and lastly to make the necessary changes to never repeat the same mistakes again.

I hate that some of my adoptee friends adopted to the USA are living a gutted life because they have been deported back to their country of birth like common commodities, shipped in and out with ease, being treated as though they are of no real value and certainly with no choice. In the majority of cases, they were placed in adoptive homes that were very damaging and their lives spiralled out of control. Isn’t adoption meant to be about “permanency“?! This week in the news headlines, an intercountry adoptee in Australia is to be deported back to the Cook Islands. It is immoral and unethical to adopt a child from one country to another when it suits, through no choice of their own, and then be sent back to birth country because they fail to live up to being an adoption success story!

I hate that thousands of my intercountry adoptee friends in the USA are living in fear everyday because they are still not given automatic citizenship. They often have no social security and cannot leave the country for fear of being picked up by immigration officials. Isn’t adoption meant to provide a forever family … and permanency in a home and country?!

I feel this anger today because it is November and around the world, many use this month to celebrate adoption and promote awareness. For me, I don’t celebrate these aspects of adoption, they make me rightfully angry and more so, when I see my experience replicated in the lives of many around the world.

At ICAV, we believe in promoting awareness of the impacts of intercountry adoption ALL year round, not just in November.

I hope after reading this, you will all also be rightfully angry at the things intercountry adoptees LOSE because of our adoption.

My goal is to encourage adoptees to turn that rightful anger into an appropriate energy:

  • to educate the wider community and enhance a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in intercountry adoption;
  • to push for the much needed social, political, legal, and economic changes that cause inequality and leave many of our families with little choice;
  • to help prevent adoption where necessary by supporting family reunification initiatives and advocating for this in our birth countries;
  • and if adoption has to be the last resort, to help improve the way we conduct intercountry adoption such as changing it from our plenary system to simple adoptions; and supporting all triad members throughout the lifelong journey.

I also acknowledge there are many other less scarey emotions and thoughts we can talk about in intercountry adoption, but at ICAV, I like to raise awareness about the issues that don’t normally get aired.

There are plenty who speak of the positives in adoption … but not many who openly share the not-so-positive aspects. In speaking out, I aim to help balance out the discussions in intercountry and transracial adoption.

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Where is the Outrage?

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It’s interesting to watch and read what goes on within the USA, the largest adopter of children internationally, into so called “forever homes”.

I’ve seen a plethora of internet articles from people and organisations who espouse saving children from their desperate situations or institutions and are upset that intercountry adoption numbers have plummeted in the past 15 years to the USA. Check out the latest from the National Council FOR Adoption by Chuck Johnson and by Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard Law Professor.

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I’m guessing these proponents barely hear the voices of adult intercountry adoptees who live it and can share what the experience has been like growing up in the USA or elsewhere, and whether we should be calling for more intercountry adoptions or to save the business or not — especially without learning lessons from the past.

I asked adult intercountry adoptees are we upset that intercountry adoptions to America (and elsewhere around the world) have plummeted? Should we make the process less stringent, with less balances and checks via government oversight, allowing private agencies to do as they had in the past? Membership within ICAV, an informal worldwide network of adult intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who advocate for the needs of intercountry adoptees, answered with a resounding NO to both questions.

Why? Because many of us live the reality knowing intercountry adoption is not as simple as what the proponents try to gloss over. Adult intercountry adoptees talk openly about wanting to prioritise and ensure children are never stranger adopted internationally when families, social structures for support, or extended family and communities exist within their birth country.

Adoptees celebrate that intercountry adoption numbers have plummeted!

The reasons for numbers plummeting is complex and specific to each sending country, but overall we see our birth countries finally starting to create better alternatives for vulnerable families and are coming to understand their most valuable resource is their children! Imagine where our birth countries would be, if instead of exporting us, they’d kept us, raised us and been able to access resources from our adoptive countries?

Perhaps our birth countries have realised intercountry adoption doesn’t always equate to a “better life” for vulnerable children. Point in case are the thousands who sit fearful of deportation in the USA because if adopted prior to 1983, they are still not granted automatic citizenship. Intercountry adoptee led organisations, like Adoptee Rights Campaign, will tell you that US Congress and President don’t appear too outraged by the citizenship situation which intercountry adoptees face! Certainly not a lot of jumping up and down or drawing attention to this fact either by Bartholet or Johnson!

I hear from adult intercountry adoptees daily from all over the world. Many of our lived experiences, especially those who manage to find biological family, learn that often our adoptions were faciltiated because our biological families were not offered financial or social supports at the time. Then there are some cases (too many for my liking to ever thoughtlessly promote adoption) where our biological families were coerced, given false expectations e.g., education, without fully understanding the consequences of legal “relinquishment“.

As an adult intercountry adoptee, I do not see adoption agencies as “saviours” but rather as “exploiters” – financially benefiting from our vulnerabilities.

As adult intercountry adoptees, we prefer more government oversight and taking of responsibility for the lifelong journey of adoption! In the past, our adoption agencies have not always done the right thing: in preserving the truth of our origins, in ensuring we are true orphans, in making sure no undue financial gain from the adoption transaction, in providing adequate post adoption support for the duration of our life, etc. In the past, our birth and adoptive governments have sometimes (often) turned a blind eye to the troubles persisting that give intercountry adoption it’s legacy of illegal adoptions. We as adult intercountry adoptees could never state enough how necessary it is to have independent oversight of any intercountry adoption process with direct and real input from those who live the experience, the adoptees themselves!

Lessons learned from the past should include a country only taking us on via intercountry adoption IF they can also provide the much needed comprehensive and lifelong support services to ensure positive outcomes and a guarantee of permanency! This should include free psychological counselling, free search and reunion, free DNA testing, free returns to birth country, free translation services, etc.

A country should only give us away if they can also provide the much needed comprehensive and lifelong support services to our biological families who face the consequences for generations of having relinquished their children.

The emotional, social, financial and generational impact that relinquishment has on a birth family and country has never been studied!

As intercountry adoptees we face relinquishment not only from our biological families but also from our birth country. We live the emotional consequences of those decisions throughout our lifetime. We often question why the money spent on our adoption process could not have been provided to our biological family to facilitate us to remain with them, therefore giving the whole family better life options and resources.

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I hope this blog will stimulate questions and thoughts about what’s missing from one-sided articles that proponents like Bartholet and Johnson promote. Instead of Bartholet asking “Where is the outrage over the institutionalised children denied adoptive homes?”, we should be asking these questions instead:

  • Where is the outrage that vulnerable families are not given adequate support to prevent them from institutionalising their children?
  • Where is the outrage for the children (now adults, some with children themselves) who were intercountry adopted to the USA prior to 1983 and are still denied permanency (i.e., Citizenship) via intercountry adoption?
  • Where is the outrage over the institutionalised children being intercountry adopted and denied their human right to grow up in their own birth land – knowing their culture, language, values, customs, religion, and family heritage?
  • Where is the outrage over the insititutionalised children who are intercountry adopted to countries like the USA, who end up in abusive or worse situations that should be prevented if agencies did adequate education and screening? In my mind, this is exactly why the US State Dept should be heavily overseeing all accreditation of adoption agencies and ensuring families are adequately prepared – and most importantly, implementing measures when an agency fails.

What is not in the child’s best interest, is to experience adoption disruption because of failure by adoption agencies who are rarely held accountable for adoptions that fail to provide for a child’s safety and well being, for their lifelong journey!

Bartholet, Johnson and other proponents of adoption write articles that fail to address the lived experiences of the hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees around the world, who can tell you what we think about plummeting numbers in international adoption. We can also share where we believe the focus should be to address the real issues.

What I find fascinating and inspiring are the adult intercountry adoptees who spend their life creating and maintaining ventures that provide support to one’s country, without taking away their most precious resource – their children via intercountry adoption. Ventures like NONA Foundation in Sri Lanka to help young women and girls who are disadvantaged, Foster Care Society in India focused on creating alternative forms of care, Family Preservation 365 in the USA, 325Kamra who provide free DNA tests to Sth Korean families in the attempt to reunite them, Centre for Social Protection of Children in Vietnam to help special needs and disadvantaged children obtain an education.

We need the focus to be more about keeping families and societies together and we should be celebrating when intercountry adoption declines — because it should always be the last resort for vulnerable families and countries, as per our human rights!

Family Preservation